Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Upcoming Elections in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman
November 8, 2011

Mohamed Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's newly formed Freedom and Justice Party gestures during an interview in Cairo in May 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

At the end of this month, Egyptians will be heading to the polls to vote in the first of three rounds of elections for the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly. To put it mildly, the race is complicated: over 55 political parties and 6,591 independent candidates are competing for 498 seats. For two thirds of the seats, political parties will nominate a closed list of 8 candidates (meaning, voters get to choose the list, not individuals); 590 lists have been submitted (including 4720 candidates). The remaining third of the seats are reserved for individual candidates. To further complicate, districts for the independent candidates are drawn differently from the  districts for parties. Confused? I haven’t yet mentioned that some seats are reserved for farmers and workers, a hold-over from Nasser’s days. The convoluted electoral law seems likely to favor established actors like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose mature organization can mobilize supporters, and remnants of the ruling regime who can finance larger campaigns and enjoy name recognition in rural districts. 

Parties must include one female candidate on their list, though unlike in Tunisia, where men and women had to alternate on the lists, there is no such requirement to position women in a competitive spot. Since most parties will only win a few seats, if women are not towards the top of the list they will have small chance of getting elected. Yet few parties are making such a commitment. Al Wafd, a liberal party, has placed at least 2 women at the top of their lists in two different districts, but the prospects for women overall do not look good. Gameela Ismael, founder of the Ghad El Thawra Party and ex-wife of former presidential candidate (and political prisoner) Ayman Nour, recently left the Democratic Alliance, which is headed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly founded political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, in frustration that she was positioned only third on the list for her district.

An additional challenge to women’s political participation is the rise of conservative Islamist parties, known collectively as the Salafists. In October, El Nour, a Salafist party, held a press conference entitled, “The Role of Women,” where a panelist said that the party was nominating women candidates only because it was required to by law and that women running for parliament was evil. El Nour is nominating 70 female candidates across all its lists, although it is unclear how many will actually get elected. I will be returning to the subject of Egypt’s elections in the run-up to the first vote on November 28th, so stay tuned.

Further resources on Egypt’s electoral law can be found at:

Elections in Egypt: Analysis of the 2011 Parliamentary Electoral System, The International Foundation for Electoral Systems

Guide to Egypt’s Transition, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The effects of Egypt’s election law, Mazen Hassan, the Middle East Channel, Foreign Policy Magazine

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